Wood Lathe Vs Metal Lathe: Things to Know Before You Buy

A lathe is a machine that is used to shape a material the way you want for a project. You place the material you are working with on the machine and the machine will help you cut, sand, drill, knurl, or otherwise modify the material you are working with. Depending on what material you are using, you will need a different type of lathe. For instance, to work with wood you need a wood lathe and to work with metal you need a metal lathe.

There are, however, some things you need to know before you go out and purchase a lathe. Here, we will take a look at what you should be aware of before you go buy your brand new metal or wood lathe.

Uses of Lathe Machine

First and foremost, you need to know what you are going to be using your lathe for. As we noted before, you would need a different type of lathe if your primary use is for woodworking than for working with metal.

This can go a step further than that, though. For example, you might need a slightly different lathe whether you want to do general metal working or a specific purpose such as metal spinning. In short, when you are looking reviews of the best lathes, make sure you pay special attention to the uses and purposes for these lathes. The last thing you want is to purchase a lathe and then realize it doesn’t suit the purpose you need it to.

Don’t Go Too Cheap

When you are buying a lathe, you don’t always have to pay for top-of-the-line, expensive lathes. On the other hand, though, the saying “you get what you pay for” does apply to a certain extent. To put it a different way, you should make sure you don’t overpay for your lathe but you should also attempt to find something that is decent and the price doesn’t seem to too good to be true.

When it comes to the cost of a lathe, the price can vary anywhere from $75 to well over $50,000. The price you will pay depends on a few factors. First, of course, is how good of a deal you find on your lathe.

The second consideration is the specific specs of your lathe such as the power output, bed length, and spindle speed. The cheapest options you will find will be the lowest in these categories while higher end models will be faster and higher powered.

For example, the low-end $75 model might have a ½ HP, a 16-inch bed, and a spindle speed of 660 to 4,000 RPM. A higher end model, such as a model closer to $21,000, would offer a stronger product with specs closer to a 16-foot bed, a spindle speed of 700 RPM, and motor power as strong as 7 HP.

Know What You Need

The obvious jumping off point from here is that you need to know what you need and what all these measurements mean.

First, there is motor power. This is usually measured in HP, or horsepower, much like a car’s engine is. The amount of horsepower you need depends on your needs specifically. If you only plan to occasionally use your lathe for small projects, something around the range of ½ HP would do you just fine. However, if you were to get heavy use out of your lathe or even industrial level use, you would want to look at options with higher horsepower.

Next is spindle speed. As the name suggests, spindle speed refers to how quickly the spindle rotates which is measure in rotations per minute or RPM. Generally when using a lathe, you will likely use higher speeds as lower speeds are saved for detail work such as thread cutting.

If you aren’t sure what you need, though, go for a lathe that offers you a wide range of options in spindle speed. A good range to use as reference is anything near 70 RPM to 2000 RPM. This will allow you to do all types of work without much worry.

Speaking of the spindle, you should also pay attention to your spindle bearings. You need to have a good distance between spindle bearings if you want your lathe to run correctly. If the spindle bearings are too far apart, you can experience a lack in the rigidity you need.

The final thing you need to look at is bed size. Bed size is usually measured by the largest length of material you can work with, usually in inches. When you are considering the bed size, consider the largest size of material you’ll be working with. Then, look for a lathe with that bed length.

If you aren’t sure what the largest bed size you will need and are planning to use your lathe a lot in the future, you could always get a lathe with a larger bed size. This way, as you get more skilled at using your lathe, you can vary further in the size of materials you work with.

Pay Attention to Weight

In the case of a lathe, you should be happy when you see a hefty weight. This is because the heavier your machine is, the less it will be rickety or cause vibrations while you work. The less vibrations your lathe makes while you use it, the more error-free your work will be.

For this reason, many people suggest a cast iron lathe. These cost a bit more than other types of lathes but it is heavy, making it relatively stable and cast iron lasts a long time. In other words, it might be an investment well-worth making if you want a lathe that works well and that you can use for years to come.

If nothing else, it is recommended to get a model that has a cast iron headstock. This is the core of your lathe, so you want it to be solid, stable, and dependable.

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Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of Cleantech Solutions, and an internationally-acclaimed blogger, journalist, consultant, advisor and ecopreneur. His areas of expertise includes waste management, renewable energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection, resource conservation and sustainable development.
Salman is a prolific environmental writer, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management, sustainability and conservation all over the world.
Salman can be reached on salman@cleantechloops.com.

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